Pranab's Dhaka visit: A diplomatic masterstroke by India?

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New Delhi, March 2: President Pranab Mukherjee was undeterred by the ongoing violence in Bangladesh and decided to go ahead with the visit to that country as per the schedules. The Indian President's three-day visit to Dhaka, which will kick off on March 3, coincides with the successive strikes called by Jaamt-e-Islami (JI) and Bangaldesh National Party (BNP).

Nearly 50 people have been killed in Bangladesh in clashes that broke out between fundamentalists and state forces after convicted Bangladeshi liberation war criminal Delawar Hossain Sayedee, also a top leader of the JI, was awarded death sentence by the International Crimes Tribunal.

But why is the Indian President bent on going ahead with the schedule? Sources said Mukherjee feels that scrapping the visit because of the clashes would mean to cede a moral victory to the fundamentalists.

The young neighbouring nation has been undergoing a transition towards a mature democracy and President Mukherjee, who knows the country closely, is not ready to lose an opportunity to encourage the mood by means of extending a moral support. Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said New Delhi took all possible preparation for the high-profile tour, adding that the situation in Dhaka was calm.

The ensuing visit will be the first-ever Mukherjee to a foreign country. Mathai said the President's visit showed how much importance India attaches to its relations with Bangladesh. The two countries have seen a marked improvement in the bilateral relations in recent times. The home ministers of the two countries have reciprocated visits while the Indian foreign minister recently went to Dhaka to work on the crucial Teesta water sharing treaty and the land border agreement. Even West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who had raised objection to the Teesta agreement, has reportedly softened her stand.

The pro-India regime in Dhaka has taken a strong stand against anti-Indian terror activities on its soil. Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed is also due to arrive in India in September, before her country goes to the general polls this year end or early next year.

But does Mukherjee's visit have a political dimension? Mathai has clearly dismissed such theory. He said the President would not engage in political negotiations during his stay in Bangladesh and just reiterate New Delhi's commitment to take relations with its eastern neighbour to a better level.

But whatever others say, there is no denying the fact that the bond of language and old camaraderie make the Indian President a trusted ally of New Delhi to strengthen its ties with Dhaka. Mukherjee, a Bengali, had been close to top leaders of Bangladesh even before that country had taken birth as an independent nation and still maintains cordial relations with leaders across the spectrum.

Mukherjee's visit at the time of the violence is also expected to play a moral booster for the Hasina government which has been targetted by the Opposition. The Indian establishment has said it does not want to intervene in Bangladesh's internal affairs and rather found in Mukherjee's visit a way to throw its diplomatic weight behind Dhaka. Mukherjee will also receive the Bangladesh Liberation War Honour Award, a gesture that will reassert Dhaka's disapproval of the Jamaat forces.

Mukherjee might not be an active politician today but he still wields significance.

Ask New Delhi.

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